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Fear factor: Does NYC have a mob problem?

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:29 p.m.

Recent violence in the city has officials and community residents questioning if the practice of flash mobs are on the rise. Coupled with the recent news that crime in the city is on the rise, activists are also questioning how the alarming trend is being handled by the city.

A flash mob is defined as a gathering of people organized by e-mail, social networking or telecommunications such a text messaging. In the past, the practice has been used for more humorous occasions like snowball fights and even sing-alongs.

However, recently, youth have been using the tactic as a way to wreak havoc in communities by meeting in public places, sometimes by the hundreds, and rioting, vandalizing and even assaulting innocent people.

Reports indicate these types of violent acts have become a trend in Philadelphia, where in the last year, four incidents of flash mob gatherings turned violent. The most recent occurred last month, when hundreds of teenagers spilled into downtown Philadelphia fighting each other, assaulting people and partaking in vandalism.

In February, a group of 150 teens gathered at a shopping mall in Philadelphia during rush hour, violently knocking down customers and vandalizing displays. As a result, 15 teenagers were arrested.

In response to the flash mobs, the Philadelphia Police Department has enforced curfews and limited access on public transportation to youth. The FBI has also begun monitoring social networking websites, according to one report.

Targeting parents as a factor for the problem, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has asked parents to keep better tabs on their children during after-school and night hours with one familiar question: "Do you know where your children are?"

He said, "A small group of kids who have caused trouble should not reflect poorly on the majority of our youth, who are well-behaved and want to enjoy themselves in a peaceful way. There are plenty of activities to keep our kids busy in after-school programs, but it's the responsibility of parents to know where their children are late at night."

Evidence of possible flash mobs starting to occur in New York was seen this past Easter Sunday when violence broke out in Midtown, leading to the arrest of 33 people and four people being shot by BB guns. Reports indicate that the incident occurred along Seventh Avenue, with shots being fired on 41st, 51st and 34th streets.

The chaos began at the International Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Center. Business owners in the area said that the incident is an annual activity that takes place on Easter Sunday and appears to be gang-related.

"There's a disconnect with youth," said Graham Witherspoon of the Black in Law Enforcement Alliance. "You don't go around and destroy stuff and call it fun. This is something we really need to look at. There's nothing cultural about this. It doesn't make a difference who you are. It's not a race thing."

Concerns are growing among top elected officials who believe that the city is going backwards to a time when crime in the city was rampant. With proposed cuts to the NYPD, some are saying things could only get worse.